Ben Cooksley

In this second episode we have talked to Ben Cooksley. He's one of the leading people in setting up key parts of the git infrastructure. Normally he's pretty quiet and does not seek the publicity. An extra reason to put him in the spot light. Meet another man behind the KDE Forums and the one that isn't scared of terms like LDAP and Gosa and can write bug free sysadmin shell scripts blindly. And the only one who does everything with Grace.

Can you give an introduction of yourself?

Currently living in Wellington, New Zealand. My sole machine is an Acer laptop I bought 2 years ago, called Grace.

Can you tell us what you do for a living?

Currently a student, studying on my qualifications.

Can you tell us what you do for KDE?

At the moment I maintain System Settings and the Device Actions control module. I am also an Administrator of KDE's own forums, where I help sort out problems users have encountered, in addition to the sysadmin tasks.

How do you divide your time between all the different things that you do?

Good question. I don't keep a physical todo list, and tend to handle things on a "as they come up basis", depending on the priority of the task itself ( which of course, is reliant on me remembering them in the first place :)

Can you tell a bit more about how you got sucked into KDE? And why you are interested in kdesysadmin? And be a bit more -v!

I first got introduced to KDE 3.4 on a Knoppix Live CD ( yes, CD, not a DVD ) back in about 2005 I think... A while later I installed my first distribution, with 3.5. During the leadup to KDE 4.0, I joined several mailing lists. It wasn't until September 2008 ( according to my account registration date ) that I started contributing to KDE itself, when I responded to the call for Moderators for the forum that was being setup. Things followed on from there, including the rewrite of System Settings, and joining Sysadmin.

Why am I interested in sysadmin? I guess I just like to find out how things work really, which was probably my original motivation for trying out Knoppix. It is interesting to see how one little 50 line script can take several systems and bind them together into one cohesive whole :)

You have become an important part of the sysadmin team, can you explain in more detail what you do?

At the moment I am working on preparing the infrastructure for the git migration ( more on that below ). Other than that I help in managing the SVN accounts of developers, and various other things ( such as mail aliases )

Would you like to do more sysadmin tasks, if so, do you want to specialize in a certain area?

I certainly do! I'd prefer not to over specialise though, but keep it general ( although I guess I have specialised to an extent with GOsa). I tend to make use of test installations so you won't find it too dangerous ( unless you are using a test install of course :) The big thing I'd like to get accomplished once the Git infrastructure is launched is the GOsa authentication system, otherwise I don't have any other plans at the moment ;) I'll certainly help in any project that comes along though.

This week GOsa will be launched on Can you explain what it is?

Yes. GOsa is a website, this frontend basically manages an LDAP directory. It will form the user frontend to managing their SSH keys and personal details which will be used by the various components of the KDE Git repository.

It is responsible for ensuring that the places that use the data are informed when it changes so that they can sync it, and ensures that people can only edit their own entries.

It is PHP-based, and uses a plugin architecture to provide virtually all of its functionality. As a result, we have been able to customise it relatively easily, and have added functionality to receive developer registrations, and collect some custom information.

Not only can it hold the ssh-keys of developers, can you give an overview about what data we can store in it and what it will be used for?

At the moment we have added the capability to store the IRC nickname and Jabber ID of the user. GOsa also comes with built in ability to store contact information, and a avatar. At the moment, none of the sites can use that avatar, but in time I hope it will be possible for the various web instances to use it.

The data itself can be used for just about anything. People could be subscribed to mailing lists based on being a member of a group for instance. The primary benefit is of course only having to remember one username and password, this is what we call the "Single Sign In"-System, which is based on the username and password you have for GOsa.

Can you explain what you mean by that?

This would mean that you would only have to sign up in one location to get instant access to all KDE sites. This is made possible by the LDAP backend that GOsa manages, and the sites then authenticate against. Developers and users can help make this possible by not using spaces in usernames, and having the same email address across all the sites. This will make it easier to merge the current accounts with LDAP based accounts in the future.

But I also heard there were rumours about the eV-membership evaluating it?

Yes, that is true. It is being evaluated for storing information about the membership of the eV members, in particularly contact details. This will allow those details to be updated by the members themselves.

Functionality has also been added to aid in managing the member list too, making members able to see their current status and a list of assemblies they have attended at a glance.

Can you explain what other options we might have with this system, in say a couple of years?

As GOsa simply manages the ldap directory, it can go anywhere. It would be potentially possible ( in the future ) for KDE applications to use some of this data possibly. The centralisation of data will hopefully allow for web apps to use the same set of information too.

At a brainstorm session we thought about: powering the planetkde configuration, forming the base of the eV-membership voting, people managing their forward address of their email alias, dns management, simple systems admin management, integration with other KDE websites, such as Bugzilla, Mediawiki, Drupal, phpBB, but it could also hold your OpenID so we can eventually transition the sites that can over to OpenID, keeping credential passing to a minimum.

To conclude some more general questions, for example, what are the areas where KDE and its software really shines in your opinion?

Well the whole desktop is really quite nice... Konsole is my pick for the best application though. Kate comes a close second though.

Do you have a vision, like where do you want KDE in general to be in 5 years and sysadmin in particular?

Would be nice to see our memory footprint reduced over the next few releases, and in general become more polished. In terms of features though, I find KDE perfect at the moment, and it is good to see that new features don't intrude on the old ones. I'd also like for Akonadi and Nepomuk to become a seamless part of the desktop ( as in setting itself up perfectly and being able to fix itself ). For sysadmin, I'd like to see all the sites using the GOsa infrastructure :)